Page last updated at 20:24 GMT, Monday, 17 January 2011

Pickles praises Localism Bill despite Labour criticism

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has hailed the government's flagship Localism Bill as a "triumph for democracy over bureaucracy", despite criticism from Labour that it will hand "over 100 new powers" to central government.

During the legislation's second reading in the Commons on 17 January 2011, Mr Pickles said the bill would "fundamentally shake-up" the balance of power in England and would end the "bonkers bureaucratic measures" created under Labour.

It would shift power away from Whitehall and back to individuals, communities and councils, he said.

Declaring to MPs that the "era of big government is over", Mr Pickles said of the bill: "It will reverse the central creep of decades and replace it with local control.

"It is a triumph for democracy over bureaucracy. It will fundamentally shake up the balance of power in this country. It will revitalise local democracy and put power back where it belongs - in the hands of the people."

The bill creates new rights for communities to instigate local referendums on any issue, veto "excessive" council tax rises and bid to buy local assets like libraries, pubs and shops.

It will also introduce a power to create directly-elected mayors in 12 cities.

But shadow communities secretary Caroline Flint said: "This bill will not revolutionise local politics, it will not empower the masses to shake up their town halls nor reinvigorate local democracy.

"Above all this is a bill that empowers one person - the secretary of state," she said, denouncing the legislation as a "sham".

She said Mr Pickles was keen on writing to local authorities with "missives, diatribes and diktats from ministers" on everything from organising a street party for the Diamond Jubilee to the right way to celebrate Christmas.

Ms Flint concluded: "This bill really should be retitled the 'only if I say so' bill because if the secretary of state doesn't like it, it ain't happening."

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